It was back to the bread and butter of the Airtricity League on Monday, after the smorgasbord of the World Cup for a good part of June.
Having not attended a real match for a few weeks, I was raring to go on Friday night, but because I was presenting the World Cup highlights show, I couldn’t get out. Instead I was studio bound in RTÉ.
The RTÉ Sport production office has been transformed into a Green Room for the duration of our World Cup coverage. Of course the location got re-christened the 'Robert' Green Room early in the tournament for obvious reasons.
This room is inhabited by researchers, programme editors, presenters, panellists, and programme staff. There is a bank of televisions with footage coming through from South Africa, before, during and after the games, and as the tournament has progressed, the walls have become adorned by pictures of various panellists and presenters. Needless to say, the lads have managed to dig up the least complimentary photos of all concerned.
Look at one wall and there’s Peter Collins, with his new romantic hairstyle from his 2fm days in the 80s. Ronnie Whelan from around the same time was on the treatment table wearing the worst boxer shorts you’ve ever seen.
And then we have Denis Irwin basking in the sunshine poolside in Ireland’s 3-star motel accommodation from USA 1994; Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady from their playing days when they had much more hair; Johnny Giles from the 1970s beside Trevor Francis when they played in the NASL in America and Richie Sadlier and Kevin Kilbane from their Irish under 21s days when they both looked like schoolboys.
I'm also in the montage, sporting a 'Tears for Fears' style mullet from the late 80s- early 90s.
With regard to our signings from overseas, Ossie Ardiles was drinking tea in a photo that somehow focuses on the table rather than the World Cup winner, and perhaps my favourite is a pic of Graeme Souness, committing one of the worst fouls ever seen at Ibrox Park.
He tells the story that Rangers were paired against Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup. In Bucharest one of the Romanians had the temerity to kick him. Mr Souness is a clever man, and he figured that if he was going to get revenge it would be better to wait until the return leg at Ibrox rather than run the risk of inflaming the crown in Romanian capital.
In the return leg, Graeme let the ball run ahead of him slightly, and took the opportunity to go in over the ball (a major understatement), and almost cut his opponent in two. As Archie McPherson said in the BBC commentary on the match: 'That’ll be a booking,' but on seeing the replay, Archie went on…'Oh dear oh dear, oh dear, he’s lucky to stay on the park after that'– (you can check it out on youtube if you haven’t seen it.)
As I mentioned, Graeme is a smart man, and having committed the awful foul, he himself went down pointing to the back of his calf as if he had been the injured party. The referee bought the story and only booked him.
The irony is that after whacking his opponent Graeme realised that the guy he’d kicked was actually the wrong man, and not his assailant from Bucharest. It’s an iconic foul, if there can be such thing, and Graeme signed the photo, ‘Hugs and Kisses, Graeme Souness’ –
Apart from the Trojan work that took place in the Robert Green room throughout the tournament, there was also the daily sweep for the first goalscorer in most matches. Everyone puts €2 into the pot, and there would be €40 for whoever drew the name of the first player to hit the onion sack in the relevant match.
Strangely, the main organiser of the sweep, researcher Pauric Nugent, always seemed to draw a Torres, Messi, Klose or Gyan type. Not that I’m suggesting for one moment any impropriety on his part, but when I drew the South Korean left back, followed by the Uruguayan who hadn’t scored in 112 appearances for his country, followed by the kit man for the Ghananians, I knew there was something a miss.
However, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, and when the dust settled on the last cliché in town, I did get Ozil for Germany against Ghana. It was a rollover from a previous 0-0 match, so there was €80 in the kitty.
Richie Sadlier arrived late and missed the draw, so being the gent that I am, I offered him 50% of my Ozil for a mere €2. Richie declined my kind offer, and 20 seconds later Ozil fired to the net! The pizzas were on me, as not only did I collect on the sweep, but I had a good bet on the Germans to win the match. Sadlier was sick as a parrot, to dredge one last cliché out of the bag.
Tony McDonnell arrived in for our shorter than normal MNS, and said the couch was a lonely place to be without the pundits to bounce off. – We’ll be back to our usual time and usual duration next Monday, slotting in the day before the first of the World Cup semiinals.
There’s no doubt, that with the wall to wall coverage of the World Cup, it’s a tough battle for the Airtricity League to engender excitement and buzz about the games, but I suppose it’s a price that only has to be paid once every four years, and the benefits of summer soccer, far outweigh the inconvenience of battling with football on the world stage every quadrennial.
Soon the World Cup will be but a memory, and I’ll be able to get back out to see some real football, played in grounds where we’ll be able to hear the crowd singing and chanting, and hopefully, not too many vuvuzelas to wreck our heads.
The top of the table is tight, and we should have some real excitement in the coming weeks.